Rosemary Harris

Rosemary Ann Harris (born 19 September 1927) is an English actress. She is a 1986 American Theatre Hall of Fame inductee.[1]

Rosemary Harris
Harris at the 2007 Spider-Man 3 premiere in Queens, New York
Rosemary Ann Harris

(1927-09-19) 19 September 1927
Years active1948-present
Ellis Rabb
(m. 1959; div. 1967)

John Ehle
(m. 1967; died 2018)
ChildrenJennifer Ehle

Harris began her stage career in 1948, before making her Broadway debut in 1952. For her New York stage work, she is a four-time Drama Desk Award winner and nine-time Tony Award nominee, winning the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play in 1966 for The Lion in Winter. On television, she won an Emmy Award for the 1974 TV serial Notorious Woman, and a Golden Globe Award for the 1978 miniseries Holocaust. For the 1994 film Tom & Viv, she received a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination. She is the mother of actress Jennifer Ehle. In 2002, she portrayed Peter Parker’s Aunt May in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, a role she reprised in 2004's Spider-Man 2 and 2007's Spider-Man 3.

Early life

Harris was born in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire, the daughter of Enid Maude Frances (née Campion) and Stafford Berkely Harris.[2][3] One of her grandmothers was from the German enclave in Kronstadt, Transylvania in the Austrian Empire.[4][5] Her father was in the Royal Air Force and as a result, Harris' family lived in India during her childhood.[6][7][8] She attended convent schools, and later studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art from 1951 to 1952.[9][10]


Early in her acting career, she gained experience in English repertory theatre. In 1948, she acted in Kiss and Tell at Eastbourne with Tilsa Page and John Clark and later with Anthony Cundell's company at Penzance, where she played the mother in Black Chiffon. She went from Penzance to train at RADA.[11] She first appeared in New York in 1951 in Moss Hart's Climate of Eden,[12] and then returned to Britain for her West End debut in The Seven Year Itch which ran for a year at the Aldwich.

Harris then entered a classical acting period in productions with the Bristol Old Vic and then the Old Vic, appearing at the latter as Ophelia in the National Theatre Company's opening production of Hamlet in October 1963, alongside Peter O'Toole in the title role.[13] Writing in UK newspaper The Guardian in 2003 as part of a series on landmark theatre productions, playwright Samantha Ellis noted of the National Theatre's opening night:

Her first film followed, Beau Brummell (1954) with Stewart Granger and Elizabeth Taylor,[11] and then a touring season with the Old Vic brought her back to Broadway in Tyrone Guthrie's production of Troilus and Cressida. She met Ellis Rabb who had plans to start his own producing company on Broadway. By 1959, the Association of Producing Artist (APA) was established, and she and Rabb were married on 4 December of that year.[15][16]

In 1962, she returned to Britain and Chichester Festival Theatre during its opening season when the director was Laurence Olivier; she appeared as Elena in Olivier's celebrated 1962–63 Chichester production of Uncle Vanya.[17] In 1964, she was Ophelia to Peter O'Toole's Hamlet in the inaugural production of the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain.

Returning to New York, she worked further with the APA, and then was cast as Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter, a performance that garnered her a Tony Award in 1966.[18] Rabb directed her one last time as Natasha in War and Peace in 1967, the same year they agreed to divorce.[15][16] A little while later, Harris married the American writer John Ehle.[19] They settled in Winston-Salem, North Carolina,[7] where their daughter, Jennifer, was born in 1969. Jennifer Ehle followed in her mother's footsteps by becoming a noted film, television and Broadway actress.[20]

In 1974, Harris starred in the BBC TV serial Notorious Woman, which aired on PBS in the US as part of Masterpiece Theatre. For this role, she won the 1976 Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series. She won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – TV Drama for the 1978 NBC miniseries Holocaust, which also starred Meryl Streep. Reviewing the BBC's 1983 production of To the Lighthouse, an adaptation of Virginia Woolf's novel of the same name, The New York Times' John J. O'Connor wrote: "A luminous, flawless performance by Miss Harris makes Mrs. Ramsay as memorable on film as she is on the printed page."[21] She received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for the 1994 film Tom & Viv. Harris and her daughter Ehle, played the young and elderly incarnations, respectively, of the same character in István Szabó's 1999 film Sunshine, about a Hungarian Jewish family. They had previously played the young and old Calypso in the Channel 4 production of The Camomile Lawn (1992).

Harris appeared in the rotating cast of the Off-Broadway staged reading of Wit & Wisdom.[22] In 2007, she received the North Carolina Award for fine arts. Her husband, John Ehle, won the same award in 1972 for literature.[23]

In 2002, she appeared as Aunt May Parker in the first film adaptation of Spider-Man, reprising the role in the sequels Spider-Man 2 (2004) and Spider-Man 3 (2007).[24][25]

On 11 September 2018, a week before her 91st birthday, Harris took over the role of Mrs Higgins in the Broadway revival of My Fair Lady from Diana Rigg.[26][27]



Year Title Role Notes
1954 Beau Brummell Mrs. Fitzherbert film debut
1957 The Shiralee Lily Parker
1963 Uncle Vanya Yelena
1968 A Flea in Her Ear Gabrielle Chandebisse
1978 The Boys from Brazil Mrs. Doring
1983 The Ploughman's Lunch Ann Barrington
1988 Crossing Delancey Pauline Swift
1989 The Delinquents Isobel
1992 The Bridge Aunt Jude
1994 Tom & Viv Rose Haigh-Wood
1996 Hamlet Player Queen
1999 My Life So Far Gamma
1999 Sunshine Valerie Sors
2000 The Gift Annie's Granny
2001 Blow Dry Daisy
2002 Spider-Man Aunt May Parker
2004 Spider-Man 2
2004 Being Julia Julia's mother
2007 Spider-Man 3 Aunt May Parker
2007 Before the Devil Knows You're Dead Nanette
2008 Is Anybody There? Elsie
2008 The Monday Before Thanksgiving Lillian Cotlo Short film
2010 Radio Free Ablemuth VALIS (voice role)
2012 This Means War Nana Foster
2015 The von Trapp Family: A Life of Music Older Agathe von Trapp


Year Title Role Notes
1952 A Cradle of Wlllow Tansy Clampett television debut

Television Movie

1952 Studio One in Hollywood Herself Episode: "The Great Lady"
1955 Othello Desdemona Television Movie
1957 Twelfth Night Viola Television Movie
1958 Suspicion Sybil Merton Episode: "Lord Arthur Savile's Crime"
1958 Omnibus Cordelia Episode: "Moment of Truth"
1958 Dial M for Murder Margot Wendice Television Movie
1958 Folio Dynamene Episode: "A Phoenix Too Frequent"
1959 Encounter Norah Marsh Episode: "The Land of Promise"
1964 Profiles in Courage Mary S. McDowell Episode: "Mary S. McDowell"
1966 Blithe Spirit Elvira Condomine Television Movie
1967 Uncle Vanya Jelena Andrejewna Television Movie
1974 Notorious Woman George Sand Television Miniseries; 7 episodes
1977 The Royal Family Julie Cavendish Television Movie
1978 Holocaust Berta Palitz Weiss Television Miniseries; 4 episodes
1979–1980 The Chisholms Minerva Chisholm Television Miniseries; 13 episodes
1983 To the Lighthouse Mrs. Ramsay Television Movie
1992 The Camomile Lawn Calypso (older) Television Miniseries; 2 episodes
1994 Under the Hammer Hester Bovington Episode: "The Spectre at the Feast"
1996 The Little Riders Grandma Roden Television Movie
1996 Death of a Salesman Linda Television Movie
2004 Belonging May Television Movie
2010 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Francine Brooks Episode: "Wet"
2014 The Money Ellen Knox Television Movie


Year Title Role
1952 The Climate of Eden Mabel
1956 Troilus and Cressida Cressida
1957 The Glass Eye Dorothy Witley
1957 I Killed the Count Louise Rogers/Countess Helen Mattoni
1957 The Prince and the Pauper Lady Edith
1958 Interlock Hilde
1958 The Disenchanted Jere Halliday
1958 The Man in Authority unknown
1958 A Tale of Two Cities Lucie Manette
1958 Wuthering Heights Catherine Earnshaw
1960 The Tumbler Lennie
1960 The Enchanted Isabel
1962 The Tavern Virginia
1962 The School for Scandal Lady Teazle
1962 The Seagull Nina
1963 Uncle Vanya unknown
1965 Judith Judith
1965 Man and Superman Violet Robinson
1965 War and Peace Natasha Rostova
1965–1966 You Can't Take It With You Alice Sycamore
1966 The Lion in Winter Eleanor
1966–1967 The School for Scandal Lady Teazle
1966 Right You Are If You Think You Are Signora Ponza
1966 We, Comrades Three Young Woman
1966 Eh, Joe? Woman's Voice
1967 The Wild Duck Gina
1967 You Can't Take it With You Alice Sycamore
1967 War and Peace Natasha Rostova
1967 Uncle Vanya Ilyena, the nurse
1967 Dear Friends Charlotte Marshall
1971–1972 Old Times Anna
1973 The Merchant of Venice Portia
1973 A Street Car Named Desire Blanche Du Bois
1975–1976 The Royal Family Julie Cavendish
1983–1984 Heartbreak House Hesione Hushabye
1985 Pack of Lies Barbara Jackson
1985–1986 Hay Fever Judith Bliss
1988 Strange Interlude Mrs. Amos Evans
1988 Tales from the Hollywood Hills: The Old Reliable Adela Shannon
1991–1993 Lost in Yonkers Grandma Kurnitz
1994 Summer Day's Dream Margaret Dawlish
1994–1995 An Inspector Calls Sybil Birling
1996 A Delicate Balance Agnes
1999–2000 Waiting in the Wings May Davenport
2003 All Over The Wife
2003 Wit & Wisdom unknown
2007 Oscar and the Lady in Pink
2009 The Royal Family Fanny Cavendish
2011–2012 The Road to Mecca Miss Helen
2014 Indian Ink Eleanor Swan
2018-2019 My Fair Lady Mrs. Higgins

Video games

Year Title Role Notes
1998 Dark Side of the Moon Miner Woman (voice role) PC version for Windows 95/98

Awards and nominations

Film accolades

Academy Award

Year Title Category Results
1994 Tom & Viv Best Actress in a Supporting Role Nominated

BAFTA Awards

Year Title Category Results
1984 The Ploughman's Lunch Best Actress in a Supporting Role Nominated

Gotham Awards

Year Title Category Results
2007 Before the Devil Knows You're Dead Best Ensemble Cast Won

Critics Choice Film Awards

Year Title Category Results
2008 Before the Devil Know's You're Dead Best Acting Ensemble Nominated

National Board of Review

Year Title Category Results
1994 Tom & Viv Best Supporting Actress Won

Television accolades

Primetime Emmy Award

Year Title Category Results
1976 Notorious Woman Best Lead Actress in a Limited Series Won
1978 Holocaust Best Lead Actress in a Limited Series Nominated

Golden Globe Awards

Year Title Category Results
1976 Notorious Woman Best Actress in a Television Series – Drama Nominated
1978 Holocaust Best Actress in a Television Series - Drama Won

Theatre accolades

Tony Awards

Year Title Category Results
1966 The Lion in Winter Best Actress in a Play Won[28]
1972 Old Times Best Actress in a Play Nominated[28]
1976 The Royal Family Best Actress in a Play Nominated
1984 Heartbreak House Best Actress in a Play Nominated
1985 Pack of Lies Best Actress in a Play Nominated
1986 Hay Fever Best Actress in a Play Nominated
1996 A Delicate Balance Best Actress in a Play Nominated
2000 Waiting in the Wings Best Actress in a Play Nominated
2010 The Royal Family Best Featured Actress in a Play Nominated
2019 Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre Won

Drama Desk Award

Year Title Category Results
1972 Old Times Best Performance Won[29]
1973 A Streetcar Named Desire Best Performance Won[29]
1973 The Merchant of Venice Best Performance Won[29]
1976 The Royal Family Actress in a Play Won
1984 Heartbreak House Actress in a Play Nominated
1985 Pack of Lies Actress in a Play Won
1996 A Delicate Balance Actress in a Play Nominated

Laurence Olivier Award

Year Title Category Results
1981 All My Sons Actress in a Revival Nominated
1983 Heartbreak House Actress in a Revival Nominated
1993 Lost in Yonkers Supporting Actress Nominated

Obie Award

Year Title Category Results
1962 The Tavern, The School for Scandal, The Seagull Distinguished Performance by an Actress Won
1965 Judith, Man and Superman, War and Peace Distinguished Performance by an Actress Won
2003 All Over Distinguished Performance by an Actress Nominated

See also


  1. Rosemary Harris Film Reference bio. Retrieved on 27 August 2011.
  2. anti-aircraft corps | august | smyth pigott | 1919 | 1083 | Flight Archive
  3. "Rosemary Harris". Yahoo! Movies. Archived from the original on 11 May 2006. Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  4. Rosemary Harris and the Picture: Madonna of the Slaughtered Jews Archived 15 February 2006 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 27 August 2011.
  5. Hollywood made in Romania (partea a II-a). (8 December). Retrieved on 13 January 2013.
  6. "Interview with Actor Rosemary Harris". Broadway World. 9 September 2014. Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  7. Rosenfeld, Megan (30 March 1986). "Rosemary Harris, Blissfully". The Washington Post. Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  8. Welsh, Anne Marie (29 September 2007). "Six decades on, Rosemary Harris' career is still in the 'Pink'". The San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  9. Hischak, Thomas S. (2001). American Theatre: A Chronicle of Comedy and Drama, 1969–2000. Oxford University Press. p. 96. ISBN 978-0-19-512347-0.
  10. Gussow, Mel (27 May 1996). "For Rosemary Harris, A Delicate Balance Of Her Art and Life". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  11. Gerard, Jeremy (27 January 2015). "Rosemary Harris On 'The Holocaust', Tom Stoppard & Liz Taylor: Conversations With Jeremy Gerard". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  12. Bordman, Gerald; Hischak, Thomas S. (2004). The Oxford Companion to American Theatre. Oxford University Press. p. 293. ISBN 978-0-19-516986-7.
  13. "National Theatre actress: 'I wasn't a bit nervous'". BBC Online. 22 October 2013. Retrieved 9 June 2016.
  14. Ellis, Samantha (12 March 2003). "Hamlet, National Theatre, October 1963". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 9 June 2016.
  15. "Harris, Rosemary 1927(?)-". Archived from the original on 14 December 2018. Retrieved 14 December 2018.
  16. "Rosemary Harris Biography (1930?-)". Archived from the original on 14 December 2018. Retrieved 14 December 2018.
  17. See the VHS recording of this performance issued by Arthur Cantor Films, New York.
  18. Reich, Ronni (25 February 2014). "Rosemary Harris returns to the New York stage". Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  19. Sandomir, Richard (12 April 2018). "John Ehle, Who Rooted His Novels in Appalachia, Is Dead at 92". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  20. Kavanagh, Julie; Avedon, Richard (13 May 1996). "Chameleons". The New Yorker. Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  21. O'Connor, John J. (12 October 1984). "TV Weekend; Virginia Woolf's 'To the Lighthouse'". The New York Times. New York City. Retrieved 9 June 2016.
  22. "Synopsis of Wit & Wisdom" at Theater Mania
  23. North Carolina Award profile Archived 15 August 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  24. Salfino, Michael (28 June 2017). "Hold On, You're Spider-Man's Aunt May?". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  25. Monahan, Mark (25 January 2008). "The face is familiar: Rosemary Harris". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  26. Vine, Hannah (28 September 2018). "First Look at Tony Winner Rosemary Harris in My Fair Lady on Broadway". Playbill. Archived from the original on 16 November 2018. Retrieved 14 December 2018.
  27. "Rosemary Harris returns to Broadway in My Fair Lady at Lincoln Center Theater". New York Theater Guide. Retrieved 14 December 2018.
  28. "Search Past Tony Award Winners and Nominees". Tony Awards. Retrieved 4 August 2018.
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